Monday, January 8, 2018

Who you are...

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  
Psalm 139

I was reminded about something very important recently.... 

What others say about you does not change who you are.

What others think about you does not change who you are.

Whatever shortcomings you think you have...
Whatever your bank account looks like...
Whatever your dress size is...

...God knows who you are.

He knows who He created you to be.  He knows exactly what His glory looks like working in you.  He has known you from the beginning of time, every fiber of your being.  No one has the power to forfeit that in you.  No one.

When we can walk forward without guilt or fear or shame we can honor God's creation in the very best way.  We can leave the power of who we are--and whose we are--in the hands of the Almighty Father.  And make no mistake about it--you are His.


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

This is Christmas

I had a really, really, great week recently.  One of those weeks where you look back and see God's hands all over each day.  The three biggest highlights....

1.  I heard the testimony of some new friends' marriage, how God met them, redeemed them and turned their lives around.  It was amazing!

2.  I watched a sweet little friend ring the bell at Texas Children's Hospital, a symbol of the end of her cancer treatments.  She is officially "no evidence of disease"!!

3.  I celebrated with friends who finalized the adoption of their precious baby daughter.

I share these joys with you for good reason.  For in celebrating in these ways with these families, you can not overlook the struggle it took to get them there.  These people--all so dear and precious--have fought, and fought mightily.  They have fought temptation and pride.  Illness and disease.  Doubt and unrest.  Their roads have been long and bumpy and dark.  And yet.....

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.  On those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned."  Isaiah 9:2

Advent is a season to prepare our hearts to celebrate the coming of Christ.  It's a season to embrace traditions and have (the best we can muster!) a bright and merry spirit.  But it is also a time to understand what Christ's coming means.  To look around on the roads we're traveling.  To see the bumps and the deep darkness and to feel those struggles AND YET! know a light is coming.  To know the hope of Christ.  

Because Christ does come to us.  From the manger to the cross, and from the grave to life again, Christ comes again and again and again to us, with hope, with salvation, with victory.  This is Christmas, friends.  This is hope.  This is Jesus.  May we know it in the deepest way.


Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Long Family Christmas Letter 2017

Ah, the holidays!  The season for making things pretty and bright and shiny and lovely.  Especially the Christmas cards.  As you might recall from last year, I took a stab at writing something no less touching but slightly more authentic to update family and friends on happenings in the Long family.  In the continued spirit of authenticity--and because you're not fooling anyone anyway--I give you The Long Family Christmas Letter, 2017 Edition...
Dearest Family and Friends....

What an incredible year it has been for our family.  The Lord has indeed blessed us in so many ways!  Kevin still has his beard.  It disappeared briefly for a few days, but the kids kept telling him he looked weird without it so he grew it back.  Whew!  Kevin's managed to stay just this side of skinny jeans on the hipster scale.  He looks mature and rugged, yet just the right touch of relevant.  We feel very blessed.

Michael is in 5th grade this year and wants a phone.  I tried to explain how cell phones are actually the work of the devil himself.  Is it any coincidence that both the fall of man in Genesis and the leader in personal technology involves an apple??  I think not.  There was much eye-rolling about this and he has not been deterred.  Michael also enjoys soccer, swimming and playing the piano.  We feel very blessed.

Blake is in 4th grade and if you ask him what's new he'll tell you he shot his first deer!  I thought it was gross, but he was so pleased so I didn't tell him how gross I thought it was.  I'm working on an apology for his future wife because I think there are going to be a lot of hides and heads and deer guts in her future.  I want her to know he is a wonderful young man even though he is so gross.  He loves being outdoors and playing football and swimming.  We feel very blessed.

Zachary just turned 8 and is never wrong.  Never.  I don't know what else to say about that.  We feel very blessed.

Parker is in kindergarten this year and, despite all odds, is managing just fine without his mother in "all day, everyday school".  His teacher taught him how to count to 100 so now he counts everything, including the minutes until he can see his mom again.  He loves to buy his lunch from the cafeteria (everything comes wrapped in its own plastic bag) and marvels at the other students that fall out of their chairs and forget to raise their hands when talking.  He played a bit of YMCA team soccer this fall when he was in the mood to.  Did you know you don't have to run during soccer? can just sort of walk up and down the field and look at the ball from a distance.  This was the strategy for many members of the team.  We did not win a game.  Still, we feel very blessed.  

I continue to do as much online grocery shopping as I can and am thinking about learning the guitar and Spanish.  Thinking about it.  I am current on all of the episodes of British Baking Show on Netflix and sometimes exercise.  I'm still the president of our elementary school PTO.  I feel very convicted about volunteering and being a part of our community.  This also allows me to see the kids during the middle of the day.  Do you know what teachers LOVE? When you pop into their classrooms and give your kids a hug in the middle of instruction.  To be a part of my kids' day at school.....I feel very blessed.  

Most of all, we have God who loves us despite ourselves!  We're looking forward to celebrating this season of His coming and we pray daily for the grace that will allow us to get through it!  May His love fill your hearts and homes this season....and all seasons!

With love....the Long Family 

Front Row, Pictured from Left to Right:  
Zachary Long (counting the minutes until he can take his "church shirt" off)
Kelly & Kevin Long (still recovering from the previous day's argument over sandwich condiments)
Parker Long (about to be pinched by his big brother)
Back Row, Pictured from Right to Left:
Michael Long (about to be grounded for pinching his little brother)
Blake Long (just farted)  


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Preparing room....

I just finished putting the front yard decorations out.  After all, the best way to spread Christmas cheer to is sing aloud for all to hear!

Is it too early to start talking about taking it all down?  You know, when the Christmas season is over.  Like a modern day Isaiah, Hobby Lobby has been foretelling of its coming for months now.  But what happens when it's all said and done?

One of my favorite Christmas lines is in the first verse of Joy to the World...."let every heart prepare Him room".  The longer I walk with God, the more I see the truth of what God does to a heart when one allows Him space inside it, and keeps Him there close by.  Anyone can know who God is.  Scripture reminds us that even Satan knows He exists.  We can't stop at salvation either.  I accept Jesus as my Savior.  But what about the Lord part?  Does He rule in your heart?  In your life beyond the season?      

The truth about Christmas for me is that it doesn't really matter much what you do at this time of year, if you're not living up to it the rest of the year.  What holiday magic really creates a relationship among family members that only see each other for the sake of the season?  That angel tree gift is a wonderful gesture, but the poor are still in need the rest of the year, too.  We love to say, "Keep Christ in Christmas" but what about the rest of the year?  Where are you keeping Him then?  Does He go back into storage with the nativity scene until next December?

Let every heart prepare Him room....

The gift of God's son is a life changing gift, from the inside out....not just a seasonal one.  We can celebrate Christmastime all we want with a lighted Christmas tree and ornaments, decorated cookies and packages.  Or we can do none of it at all!  Christ isn't just interested in being a part of your holiday celebration.  He wants you all the time.  

Heavenly Father, this time of year it is easy to be swept up with celebrating and decorating, gift-buying and preparations.  All of these traditions can indeed be so much fun.  But, Father, when the season is over and everything is packed away let me remember that You are still on the throne!  You are my Savior AND my Lord.  Let my actions this holiday season be a continuation of the good works You have accomplished through me so far, and lead me further in Your name into the new year ahead.  Amen.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Love them anyway...

Have you seen this video yet, of Paul Rugg and his Chihuahua?  Paul explains how he unwinds after a long day with his furry companion. (Follow the link to watch the video on YouTube.  It kills me!!  Every. Single. Time.)  Of course you learn that the dog isn't in quite the same place as Paul is on this.

I think loving on people is sometimes like the situation in this video.  It's supposed to make you feel good and fill you up inside.  It's supposed to be life changing and heart changing.  But some people just gnaw on your hand.  Repeatedly. 

Some people are hard to love.

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. 

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." Luke 6:27-36

This isn't the message the world gives us.  It requires a strength and grace the world can't provide.  But then again, my friends, we're not in this for the world.

Whoever might be challenging you today, keep up the good work.  The world isn't always going to respond the way you want it to, but if we stop trying the enemy wins.  Not by our own strength or for our own glory do we love on others, but because Christ loved us first. 

So hang in there, friends.  You're making a difference.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Captain Phillip, Fisher of Men

Earlier this month the boys and I treated Kevin to a guided fishing trip on Lake Conroe, our birthday gift to him.  Our captain for the morning was a man named Phillip.  We had just boarded the boat and strapped on the life jackets when Phillip shared that his daughter, Ashley, had passed away the day before.  Kevin and I looked at each other, not quite sure what to say or think.  Here we sat with a grieving father, expecting him to spend the next five hours with us, teaching us and guiding us in the ways of catfish.  And, oh, by the way, please be in a good mood with us and super patient because our boys ask A LOT of questions.

So I said, "Captain Phillip, what are you doing here??  Are you sure you're up for this today?"  And his response, "I've got to pay for the funeral.  And I know where she is."

Phillip, it turns out, is much more than a fishing guide.  Phillip and his wife have 7 children and 16 grandchildren between the two of them.  And Phillip is a missionary.  A modern day Peter, James or John, he laid down his competitive fishing net many years ago to begin his ministry.  He's traveled to Africa, Fiji, Russia, Honduras, slept on the dirt and dined with peasants. 

"Phillip," I said, "You are LITERALLY a fisher of men."

As the morning went on, Phillip talked about his family, his daughter and his life experiences.  He quoted scripture and shared some of the many times he's seen God actively moving in his life.  He talked about burying his parents, both of his brothers and now the task ahead of him...burying his daughter.  When we loaded the car and left the marina Michael turned to me and said, "That man is a CHRISTIAN!"

Captain Phillip has traveled all over the world to spread the Gospel, but I'm willing to bet his biggest mission field is right there on Lake Conroe.  Can you imagine your workplace in the same way?  We think mission work has to require a suitcase and months of fundraising, but what if God's biggest job for you is where you are right now?  Who is God putting in your path today that needs to know, even on your hardest day, about the truth of Christ's love? 

"For He has not given us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." 2 Timothy 1:7 

Be bold!!  Be courageous.  Be a fisherman, wherever you are. 


Thursday, September 14, 2017

I don't like noise.

It might come to surprise you that I, having been blessed with 4 wonderful boys, don't handle noise well.  Truly.  I turn the radio off when we get in the car.  I don't like loud restaurants or clubs.  I think surround-sound speakers were made by the devil.  God has given me the heart and patience to miraculously ignore the constant pounding, banging and shouting that often comes from our upstairs game room (they are, after all, making memories up there....) but that's about it.

And I'm not much good with the other type of noise in life either.  The kind of noise that comes from monogrammed YMCA team shirts (you all know how I feel about that), birthday parties for adults, most smart phone apps, preschool graduation ceremonies, 5th grade graduation ceremonies, professional football players (excluding, obviously, JJ Watt who is rumored to be taking over Lakewood Church from Joel Osteen), gender reveal parties, competitive cheerleading and wedding reception party favors.

On a daily basis I struggle with walking the ever-thinning line of living--in the example of Christ--in this world but not of it.  How do you do it...cut out or stand against the things that don't matter, that you don't believe in, without being a total social pariah??  And I'm not even talking about BIG things here.  Martin Luther King Jr. stood against segregation.  I'm only talking about cupcakes on the last day of school and yet it is so difficult!

One thing I've found in the wake of the mess Harvey left behind is that it's becoming a lot easier to say no to what doesn't matter.  I don't believe God intends bad things for his people, but I do believe He uses tragedy to refine us in ways that abundance can not.  Sometimes the most desperate times for a community are the times of most clarity.  We see need in a different way, give no second thought to filling it, and walk closer to God in the way we love others.

I want recovery for those affected by these storms.  I want it so badly.  But I am not eager to return to life complicated by the things that do not matter.  I don't want schedules that are so over-booked that the thought of dropping things to help a neighbor goes unentertained.  I don't want pressure to spend money on what will be dust and ashes instead of life-giving bread for others.  I don't want the WHAT to be more important that the WHO in our lives.  I want a new normal, as our pastor puts it.

I want the Kingdom of Christ.  At any cost.

Lord Jesus, heal our wounds and repair the brokenness in our lives.  Restore our homes and our community, but not to the way things used to be.  Use this time of hardship to bring us closer to you, God, and to the kind of world you'd have us live in.  Let us cling to the lessons you are teaching us right now, the goodness you are making of this mess.  And let it change from the inside out.  Amen.